|Phyllis Omido. Image Credit:allAfrica.com|
Phyllis Omido was working at a lead smelter plant in Mombasa in 2007 when her infant son, King David fell ill. After all the tests carried out on little David turned negative, a plant manager suggested to Phyllis that she tests her son for lead poisoning. The results were devastating! The infant had acute lead poisoning. She had unknowingly poisoned her son through breast milk.
Her case was not isolated, when she reached out to the community around the lead smelter, similar stories to her own were uncovered.This prompted the young mom to establish the Center for Justice, Governance and Environmental Action (CJGEA) throughy which she pushed the government to have the members of the community tested for lead poisoning. The tests confirmed her fears. The soil around the s,melter showed high levels of lead and the children high levels of lead in their blood.
Taking her findings to the smelter management and the Kenya National Environmental Manajgement Authority did not help the situation. The plant remained operational. This is when Phyllis decided that seeing hhthe plant closed would be her primary goal.
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7 years, a number of protests, arrest and jail-time later, the plant was finally closed in 2004 and the government agreed to test the community, clean the site as well as the surrounding areas.
For her efforts and sacrifice, Phyllis was one of the six recipients of the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize. Having gone without a salary for years, she felt that the prize would go a long way in ensuring that her organization reached a wider scope in helping communities and while giving a bigger platform to the addressing of human rights issues with the policymakers.
Closing down the plant has not slowed her efforts one bit. CJGEA now has a youth empowerment division whose role is to translate the organization’s mission to the next generation.
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